Friday, August 27, 2010

Locavores Face Off: In the News

Photos (Lexi Van de Walle): The Faces of the Local Food Movement: Asparagus -Grand Army Plaza Farmers Market, Jams and Preserves - Dag Hammarskjold Farmers Market

I love it when The New York Times runs articles about local food economies, farmers and food policy, urban ag and locavore recipes. I get especially excited when the word LOCAVORE is used in a piece and welcome an op-ed that has LOCAVORE in its title even if I violently disagree with its premise. Why? Because the more our country debates our food system, the pros and cons of farmers markets and urban agriculture, impact of food miles, fossil fuel used in agriculture and climate change, the causes of exploding obesity rates, farm subsidies for commodity foods, food justice, local and national food policy and the like the better it is for not only food advocates and locavores but for all eaters.

With just two years until the next Farm Bill (2012) the more debate there is the better, I believe, as the Farm Bill impacts food prices and food choices, with subsidies for corn and soy artificially driving down the price of cheap, fast and processed food and making healthy, whole and local foods more expensive by comparison.

What would happen to fruit and vegetable prices and their consumption if we drastically reduced corn, wheat, soy and other commodity subsidies that help make cheap burgers and fries and instead supported government programs with billions of dollars for fruit and vegetable farmers, farmers markets and CSAs, and sustainable farming practices?

If the USDA promoted the use of food stamps (yes, food stamps are a huge chunk of the Farm Bill) at farmers markets and banned soda from the food stamp program would we see a big drop in obesity and diabetes rates and dramatically lower health care costs?

The New York Times
op-ed I refer to is Math Lessons for LOCAVORES, by Stephen Budiansky which ran last week. The responses on the Internet to his narrow and grossly ill informed view (in my opinion) of the local food movement has been enlightening to read -- both for and against Budiansky's anti-locavore, "it's only about food miles stupid" argument -- including on his blog.
featured thoughtful responses from ten food advocates/writers -- pro and con -- and The Atlantic wrote an article about Grist's response to Budiansky's op-ed. Many bloggers chimed in as well.

Let the conversations begin!

The Atlantic
Article: Grist vs. New York Times Debating Local Food Article with links to articles from Jill Richardson, Anna Lappe, Kerry Trueman, Tom Philpott and others:
Food Fight: Do LOCAVORES Really Need Math Lessons?

I highly recommend that you read some or all of the articles -- just click the author's name -- to get a holistic view of all the issues on why locally grown food is good (and where the locavore movement falls short). Here are some excerpts:

Tom Philpott, Food Editor,

Arbitrary rules, without any real scientific basis, are repeated as gospel by locavores,' celebrity chefs, and mainstream environmental organizations," complains Budiansky. But he fails to spell out even one of those onerous rules, or name a single locavore, celebrity chef, or organization preaching it.
Kerry Trueman,

But energy efficiency is only one small part of the equation when you add up the reasons to buy local. Other factors include: flavor and nutrition; support for more ecological farming practices; reduction of excess packaging; avoidance of pesticides and other toxins; more humane treatment of livestock and workers; preservation of local farmland; spending one's dollars closer to home; the farmers market as community center, and so on.
Jill Richardon, writer for the La Vida Locavore blog

As much as Lay's Potato Chips tries to claim that its potatoes were grown by local farmers, that's a misuse of the term "local." "Local" food means grown by someone you can meet face to face, by someone you can have a relationship with. It means accountability. Even the organic standards leave room for vast swaths of input-intensive monoculture that go into the industrial food chain. An organic label on a food at a store is not enough. Local means I can verify that my food was grown ecologically as opposed to merely organically.
Ela Starmer Food and Water Watch

What does it mean when so few companies control so much of our food? It means that unless we happen to live in a place with a lot of local farmers and the infrastructure to process and distribute their products, we have virtually no control over what we're eating or feeding to our kids. If these companies choose to raise meat using hormones and antibiotics (and they do), or grow corn from genetically-modified seed (and they do), then that's what we'll have access to. And if one thing goes wrong at one of those companies, we all risk being affected.
Jennifer Maiser, Eat Local Challenge

...there are so many factors to eating locally, and we locavores don't total food miles or energy expended as we are eating our meals. When I am tasting my breakfast of scrambled local eggs with the first good tomatoes of the season, I'm not really doing any math whatsoever -- I'm thinking of the farmers and the well-treated workers, and of the amazing flavor of my meal.
Ken Meter, Crossroads Resource Center

I build a new food system because the one we have is so fundamentally broken, even at low oil prices, and because we have no choice but to build a new one.
Anna Lappe, author Diet for A Hot Planet

What we grow and where we grow it is the predictable result of massive public subsidies to the largest industrial producers. In this context, the question that we locavores are asking is what kind of support and subsidies should we have, directed at which outcomes, and in whose interest? Do we want a food system that subsidizes chemical farming and feedlot meat production -- the kind that has given rise to foodborne illnesses sickening hundreds of thousands every year and spreading salmonella causing a 380 million egg recall? Or one that fosters sustainable practices, fairly paid farmers and food workers, clean water and healthy soils, all while bringing us affordable good-tasting food?

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